by Pam Willison
It’s the time of year when common sneezeweed is blooming in Owen Sowerwine, and a person might assume it gets its name because it causes itchy eyes and sneezing in allergy sufferers. However, this native aster acquired the name sneezeweed because it was dried and used as a “snuff”, resulting in sneezes that were reportedly to expel evil spirits. Some sources say the treatment was actually for relief of congestion.
Helenium autumnale, the genus name comes from a legend that these flowers sprung from the ground where Helen of Troy shed tears. The species name autumnale is derived from the fact that it blooms in late summer or autumn. It might also be called false sunflower or Helen’s flower.
It was recently spotted along the Stillwater River in Owen Sowerwine (see photo), which is appropriate considering it likes moist, and even gravelly, locations. Sneezeweed has a protruding greenish-yellow central disc and 8-21 bright yellow fan-shaped ray florets, tipped with 3 shallow lobes. Although it attracts butterflies and bees, all parts of the plant are toxic to humans when consumed in large quantities. It can also be poisonous to livestock if it is consumed repeatedly over a long period.
Sneezeweed is a welcome splash of color as most other flowers have faded.